Concerned by area suicide rates, group meets to discuss solutions



If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available.

• Dial 911 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room.

• Call the Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide (R.E.P.S.) hotline at 970-846-8182

• Call Colorado West Regional Mental Health. The Steamboat Springs outpatient clinic is at 970-879-2141. Twenty-four-hour emergency services can be reached at 970-870-1244.

• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreven...

— Mental illness, a disease as real as cancer or diabetes, can lead to the most tragic of consequences: suicide.

But with just a little training about what to watch for and how to help, the friends, family and co-workers of those suffering from suicidal thoughts can help them get the help they need.

That’s a message Ronna Autrey, of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, and other community members are trying to spread.

“We wouldn’t turn our backs on someone with cancer,” Autrey said. “We would rally for caner. We should rally for mental illness.”

A group of concerned community members and officials met Thursday to discuss revamping suicide support groups and training in Craig. With Moffat County’s suicide rate higher than the state average, meeting attendees felt compelled to address the problem.

Moffat County’s suicide death rate in teens ages 15 to 19 was four times higher per capita from 2005 to 2009 than the state average, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. For all ages, Moffat County’s suicide death rate from 2005 to 2009 was two times higher per capita than the rest of the state.

During the past 10 years, 53 deaths in Routt and Moffat counties have been attributed to suicide, making it a leading cause of death in Northwest Colorado.

As a state, Colorado has the sixth highest suicide rate in the country, with the number of suicides increasing 38 percent from 612 deaths in 2000 to 847 in 2010, according to Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide.

During Thursday’s meeting, Craig Police Department Cmndr. Bill Leonard said the county needs to make people more aware of the issue.

“We had three suicides last year and we already had one this year,” Leonard said. “Somehow, some way we have to get that message out.”

Autrey said men between ages 25 and 55 commit suicide at the highest rate. Forty-two percent of Moffat County’s population falls between the ages of 25 and 54, with 51 percent of the county’s total population being male.

Autrey said part of the reason men have higher suicide rates is they don’t seek help as often as women. They often use more lethal means when carrying out a suicide.

“The Western culture is a very pain-avoidant society,” said Neil Folks, president of the Moffat County Fuller Center for Housing. “We don’t talk death or anything like that.”

R.E.P.S. trains groups in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and Question Persuade Refer classes. Both suicide intervention training courses help teach participants to recognize warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to get that person help. The next available ASIST training is March 14 and 15 in Steamboat Springs at Concordia Lutheran Church. The course is free to attend. For more information, call R.E.P.S. at 970-846-8182.

R.E.P.S. also began a program last year called Suicide Prevention Advocates in conjunction with the Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat. Whenever someone is admitted to the emergency room for attempting suicide or contemplating suicide, someone is assigned to sit with them. In the past, that person often was a security officer. But with the new program, Autrey said trained volunteers now are staying with the patients.

Of the 36 people R.E.P.S. volunteers sat with in 2012, 18 were between ages 14 and 25.

“It’s getting to be epidemic proportions of teens attempting suicide,” Autrey said.

That’s why Autrey hopes to speak at schools and train faculty and students on how to keep an eye out for someone suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness.

Autrey recently trained all 50 high school teachers in Steamboat and will be training all the students in March.

“These kids have such pressure on them,” Autrey said. “In school, sports, the economies and their families.”

In addition to reaching out to schools, Autrey trains all second-year nursing students at Colorado Northwestern Community College as part of their curriculum. She said she hopes other community groups will invite her to train them, adding that prevention starts with laypeople.

“We want to train as many of the public as we can because they have the first interactions with them,” Autrey said. “This has to start with us because most of these people aren’t seeking help.”

Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or


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